South of the Border, West of the Sun is one of Murakami’s “relationship” books, meaning it is primarily about love and sex between the characters, rather than being a mystery or puzzle for the characters to solve. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best way to split up his novels, but until After Dark, they break down pretty well this way. I think Norwegian Wood is the best of his books in the relationships category (Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is my favorite in the puzzle category), but South of the Border is a good, melancholy variation on the same theme. There is a lot of what seems like biography in here—the main character owns a jazz bar—and a lot of sadness and the feeling that the main character’s fate is sealed:
Just after I turned twenty, this thought hit me: Maybe I’ve lost the chance to ever be a decent human being. The mistakes I’d committed—maybe they were part of my very makeup, an inescapable part of my being.
I’m not sure how to characterize After Dark since it doesn’t fit into my artificial dichotomy of his books. It’s is also the shortest, and my least favorite of his books. The plot revolves around four characters (one of whom is asleep), and how they spend a single night in Japan. Much of the story is fairly conventional, but some chapters are written from the perspective of what seems like a movie director, giving instructions to the camera and narrating what it shows. I didn’t really get what Murakami was trying to say or do with this part of the narrative and it took away from the rest of the characters I wanted to care about. The book does give a good sense of place and the eerie feeling of being up all night in a city, but that’s all I really got out of it.
As I mentioned, I read both of these books (as well as three others before it) on an e-reader. In general, this was a very positive experience. Because I can read on the iPad and iPhone, it meant a nice big comfortable screen when I was at home, and the ability to read from the same point wherever I happened to be on the phone I carry with me. The ability to easily highlight and take notes, easily find those notes, and the integrated dictionary + google + wikipedia searching was really great. The convenience of being able to read exactly what I want at the moment I want to read it is also a huge benefit to the format.
But I still can’t tell if this is the way I want to consume literature going forward. I like physical books, I like bookstores, and I like having a house with bookshelves filled with books. I can pull them off the shelf, and more often than not, recall various places or times when I was reading them. Sentimental, sure, but there it is. Does convenience, immediate gratification, and technical sophistication outweigh the nebulous goodness of the printed page, the tactile object? I’m not sure. I’ve still got dozens of unread physical books, so I won't have to make up my mind for quite awhile, and I think I’ll be getting Murakami’s latest (to be released in English translation in October) in physical form, despite it’s 900+ pages.